JOHANNESBURG – Amid an ongoing strike at its South African gold operations, Sibanye-Stillwater said on Friday that it would be extending a special cash advance of up to 50 percent of basic pay to employees in the bargaining unit if they require it.

Sibanye said it was doing this in a bid to mitigate the negative financial impact of the strike on its employees ahead of the Christmas holidays and January back-to-school periods.

The cash advance will be available to all category 4-8 employees, miners, artisans and officials in the bargaining unit who are at work and specifically request to receive the cash advance before 4pm on Tuesday next week. The miner said this special cash advance will be repaid to the company over a five-month period via payroll deduction, from the end of February 2019.

Neal Froneman, chief executive of Sibanye, reiterated that the safety and well-being of all their employees and their families was their first priority, adding that management had been concerned about the timing of the strike and the financial hardships that employees who have been on strike, or not at work, will suffer due to the "no work, no pay" principle, which still applies.

"I urge all employees to report for work, and only for those who need it, to apply for the cash advance. We understand the financial challenges facing many of our employees at this time, and would like to have some comfort that all of our employees and their families are able to enjoy a safe and peaceful holiday period together," Froneman said.

On Thursday, Sibanye said that the ongoing strike by workers affiliated to the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) was no longer protected as they were bound by the collective bargaining unit agreement, and they were expected to report back to work this weekend.

This is after Sibanye extended the wage agreement agreed to with the other three unions to all employees at its South African gold operations.

About 15,000 Amcu members embarked on a strike three weeks ago demanding R1,000 annual wage increases for each of the three years. The strike has been characterised by intimidation and violence at Sibanye's gold operations, especially at Beatrix, Kloof and Driefontein mines in South Africa, resulting in deaths of four workers.

In October, Sibanye inked a three-year wage agreement with the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), Uasa and Solidarity in respect to wages and conditions of service for the period July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2021. 

The agreement allows for increases to the basic wage of Category 4-8 surface and underground employees of R700 per month in the first year, R700 per month in the second year and R825 per month in the third year. Miners, artisans and officials will receive increases of 5.5 percent in year one and 5.5 percent or CPI, or whichever is the greater, in years two and three of the agreement.

But Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa, at a media briefing on Friday, again accused Sibanye of using "underhand tactics" in extending the wage agreement even on its members who have rejected Sibanye's offer, adding that its members will continue with the strike action until all due processes are followed.

"We know we have a moral obligation to obey the laws of this country, however, we don’t have to obey an immoral system that is designed to enslave our members. We cannot continue folding our arms and putting our future in the hands of those who do not care. If you think Froneman will ever think about the future of a black worker, forget it. We need to do the work ourselves," Mathunjwa said.

"The struggle of Amcu is about dignity, it is not just about money. Sibanye Stillwater is a company that has the worst safety record in South Africa. It has recorded the largest number of fatalities in South Africa this year. Part of their success has been encouraged by a strong gold price and the enslavement of workers. On 21 November 2018, our members embarked on a strike to transform the slave regime."

Sibanye currently employs approximately 32,200 people at its SA gold operations, with Amcu representing approximately 43 percent of employees in the bargaining unit.

African News Agency (ANA)